It’s that time of year again – the time when wrestling fans feel that something special in the air as we approach WrestleMania. Over the past 30 years, Mania has been home to some of the biggest and best matches and some of the most unforgettable moments in wrestling history. Every performer seeks to leave their mark on the grandest stage of them all. However, much like any other prestigious event, there are always debates over which shows stand the test of time and deserve to be considered the best of the best. With that in mind, we felt it might be appropriate this year, with 30 WrestleManias now in the books, to take a look back and determine which shows truly are the greatest in WrestleMania history.
So, we assembled an all-star panel of Place To Be Nation writers and personalities to weigh in. Each participant submitted a list of all 30 WrestleManias, ranked 1 through 30. The list of 10 voters includes Nick Duke, JT Rozzero, Greg Phillips, Todd Weber, Jordan Duncan, Glenn Butler, Jason Greenhouse, Aaron George, Tim Capel and Matt Davis. A points system was utilized, awarding each show 30 points for a first place vote, 29 points for a second place vote, and so on. Once the points were totaled, we came up with Place to Be Nation’s definitive WrestleMania rankings.
20. WrestleMania 13 (120 points)
Lowest ranked by Jordan Duncan and Jason Greenhouse at No. 23
Highest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 5
Aaron George: There’s no logical reason for me to enjoy WrestleMania 13 as much as I do. I mean I didn’t rank it super high or anything, but I’m sure some would disagree that it should be in the upper third. For all the mud throwing it has had to endure, I just can’t help but feel warmth in my cold black heart (not Owen) despite all the farmers, AIDS-ridden punk rockers, racial stereotypes and poor decisions all around. Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment or maybe, just maybe, I’m waaaaaaaaaaaay to happy to have Sid as WWF champion.
In the pantheon of great opening matches the four-team elimination match that “wows” the Chicago crowd is completely and deservedly lost in the shuffle. Is It Bret vs. Owen? No. Is it Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H? Absolutely not. Is it the worst opener in Mania history? Completely debatable. The point is, we are clearly standing at the vanguard of the future of tag team wrestling: It’s hillbillies meets homeless guys in skirts, Blackjacks, not to be confused with slapjacks, meets oiled up shooters. (Reg???? If ye wanted to try me, ye should have just tried me… Reg?) Could one really prove that the attitude era didn’t start in this match? Can one prove anything? What is science?
Speaking of science I’m not sure it’s possible to have a more scientifically designed babyface tank as spectacularly as Rocky Maivia. The fact that there were cheers for Rikishi dressed as a character from King’s Quest VI: Heir Today Gone Tomorrow only proves that we should shift away from science and start worshiping the fire for the true yardstick it is. Also there has never been a more apropos tagline from an obscure video game that so describes the career path of Rocky Maivia.
One could say that Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust was quote “boring as fuck,” and one would probably be right. The tag team title match, while not boring, clearly was a special “what the fuck is going on here?” match. Does it make sense for Mankind and Vader to be teaming? Of course it does! Vince loves clusterfucks. He loves fiascos. Why do you think he created the XFL? Fiasco is my favorite word in the English language. What sense would it have made to have Vader and Mankind fight one another? Sure the match would have been great and elevated the whole card, but how do we know they’d even be compatible? By the same token what would be the point of letting Owen and Bulldog tear the house down for the newly created European title? It’s obvious they were going for “no good matches” on the card up to this point. Why would Vince switch gears for these two immigrants from countries Vince has no clue about? You can bust on Vince for what he likes but you can’t find fault in the man’s logic and determination to stick with an idea, no matter how ill-advised or shit on by the fans.
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin is the greatest match in company history.
The street fight is fun and adheres to a time honored WWF rule: if you’re a black wrestler/sports entertainer/superstar you must immediately find the other black athletes on the roster and fight with them. It’s always nice to see the LOD but the real tragedy here is that they didn’t even bother to tell us, the paying audience, what had happened to Rocco. I truly hope he’s all right and not “fucked to death” as I’ve suspected for years.
The best part about the main event is Bret getting screamed at after a powerbomb by Sid. “Get your ass you of here Bret!” is such an endearing and enduring quite that it should probably be on the US dollar bill. Right next to the secret society stuff. The match that follows is putrid, so putrid in fact that for me the WrestleMania (in Bret Hart’s voice) ends with Ahmed Johnson screaming at the crowd in a fit of rage, satisfaction, and comprehension, as I can’t bring myself to sit through that FIASCO ever, ever again. I know Undertaker wins. I know he wears grey like when he was called Kane. I know I hated his reign.
With all these positives, it truly is a travesty that WrestleMania 13 isn’t lauded as one of the greatest things of mankind. I was just happy to experience it live in my living room, a cynical 17 year old just getting back into wrestling, screaming for Austin to beat the shit out of Bret. For that chair shot to the back I will always love you 13. I will always care.
19. WrestleMania 25 (139 points)
Lowest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 26
Highest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 10
Tim Capel: Ah, the curse of the 1-match WrestleMania.
For whatever reason, there are more than a few wrestling events spared a comprehensive savaging on the strength of a single saving grace. It’s not a matter of degrees, wherein these treasures simply look better in relation to the trash heaps upon which they sit. You know the drill: we’re talking the likes of Austin/Hart at WrestleMania XIII. Such matches stand out even among the very best, legitimate challengers for greatest of all time distinction. That makes it all the more frustrating to see them in the company of such mediocrity, and confounding to rank against the more balanced WrestleManias.
I’m alluding, of course, to the 25-Diva Battle Royal.
I kid, I kid, but that goes a long way in illustrating the disparity of quality across this show, yes? HBK/Undertaker is awe-inspiring. If ever the counterintuitive label of “instant classic” could be applied to a piece of entertainment, it’s here. Those two created something through their chemistry and uncanny command of the squared circle that I honestly did not believe any match was capable of. It literally changed the way I thought about professional wrestling, raising the bar to an unimaginable height. It’s as flawless a performance as, well, I dare say Savage/Steamboat. If not for the competition of itself in the following year’s rematch, I dare say it is my favorite WrestleMania match (or wrestling match), period.
So where does that leave us if we, inconceivably, take HBK/Taker off the card?
It goes without saying that a healthy Shawn Michaels and Undertaker would have a place on any WrestleMania, so it’s not as simple as subtracting their match and leaving this giant void. To employ a little armchair booking, let’s say Michaels goes against JBL since they had just hastily wrapped a feud anyway. Undertaker’s next-best option would probably be Chris Jericho. I could see both alternatives working out quite well indeed (with Jericho/Taker in particular having an enormous upside). While these would be real value-adds for Jericho and JBL with respect to their actual booking, I don’t think there’s any arguing that even the two hypothetical matches together are enough to make up for the loss of HBK/Taker. So, no net gain to the show in doing Plan B. What we’re left with on the card that was… isn’t any great shakes, but not as bad as it’s made out to be.
The three-way battle for Vickie Guerrero’s heart is monumentally absurd and certainly unbecoming of the otherwise immaculate legacy associated with the WWE Title. Whatever. With the flexibility afforded by two championships, not every rivalry has to be some deadly serious blood feud. You can get away with frivolity like this now and then. More bothersome is that throwing three guys together for “the other WrestleMania title match” always smacks of lazy booking, and it had gotten pretty habitual by 2009. Fortunately, triple threats tend to be Big Show’s forte. It makes for a fun, quick little number that’s about as a decent as you can expect from the match. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but I have no shame in enjoying it at face value.
I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I actually like Hardy vs. Hardy too. It violates the rule that no one wants to see the Hardys fight, ever, but is serviceable enough nonetheless. Yes, we would’ve preferred the returning Christian in Matt’s stead. Sure, the story is indie-riffic and neither guy has the acting chops to elevate the material. I still dig the match as an entertaining garbage-y brawl and my irrational disdain for Jeff Hardy sweetened the finish of Matt going over (in a cool, sick-looking spot).
Filling out the rest of the undercard: “Santina” winning the battle royal is cringe-inducing, but surprisingly not in a way that makes me embarrassed to be a wrestling fan (if only because it is SO self-deprecatingly stupid); Jericho and the legends is inessential, although Steamboat still being able to go is an uplifting mark-out moment; and of the Money in the Bank matches that blur together (i.e. all of them after 2007), this one has the most going for it.
So yeah, even the matches apart from the obvious standout are perfectly fi–hang on, what’s that? Michaels and Undertaker wasn’t the main event? Well, shit. Do we have to?
Alright, I will say this for Orton/Triple H: it’s an interesting match, if woefully ill-conceived. You’d think Trips would’ve learned his lesson after whiffing one WrestleMania main event already, but his ambition is not to be deterred. For whatever reason, he judges this to be the proper setting to debut a bizarre experimental style wherein both men hit their finishers straight off, then decelerate the match to a crawl, leaving them nowhere else to go until an anticlimactic finish. It comes off as inappropriately self-indulgent for a WrestleMania headliner, never mind the fact that this kind of layout made NO GODDAMN SENSE for the story behind it.
After all the physical and psychological torment Triple H had suffered at the hands of Randy Orton in the weeks leading up to this show, you’d think nothing short of a brutal, mouth-foaming, unrelenting evisceration of his opponent would be satisfactory for the Game. The caveat that Triple H could lose the belt on a disqualification added a layer of intrigue and pathos, requiring the champion to seemingly do the impossible in keeping his cool in order to keep his title. I’d say this was instead an encumbrance that neutered what should have been a wild street fight, but in truth, it amounted to little more than an afterthought. Rather than rising to the challenge of cleverly working within the stipulation, while also delivering an excellent match, Triple H calmly goes into this like any other day at the office.
I don’t mean to bag on Triple H so much, but the onus really was on him to work the match as it fit the angle. His reach just totally exceeded his grasp here, resulting in a mystifying main event that feels like it fell out of another dimension where it had an entirely different backstory altogether. That said, it’s worth seeing at least once just for how bonkers it is.
If anything’s a drag on this show, it’s the pacing far more than the matches themselves. That Kid Rock concert is incredibly out of place, coming right on the heels of the opening contest when the last thing anyone needed was an intermission. (To say nothing of him being such a poor choice of artist – I know he had his little comeback with the unbearable “All Summer Long,” but modern WrestleManias have tended to do better in picking contemporary acts that are contextually suitable.) It just goes on FOREVER, only to be relieved by… the divas battle royal. If ever there was a bit that screamed “death spot placement,” it’s this. That saddles Jericho and the Hardys with the thankless job of getting the crowd back, and they didn’t exactly have a lot of momentum behind them to begin with. Rey and JBL get nothing, so everyone finally wakes up for HBK/Taker. Following that does a disservice to the triple threat since the logical cool-down segment was already wasted. Then it’s right on to the final match with no breather. Who booked this crap? Even without changing their content, some minor rearrangement of this show’s constituent parts would’ve presented it in a much kinder light.
It’s not so much that WrestleMania XXV is a one-match show, since really anything would’ve paled in comparison to HBK/Taker. The real problem is that it’s insanely uneven. It gives us one of, perhaps actually THE greatest matches of all time, alongside a train wreck of a main event, and a weirdly unceremonious undercard. There’s nothing I would consider repellant, as even the bad stuff has its own sort of curious appeal. What strikes me is how unpretentious a show this is for the “25th anniversary of WrestleMania” (sic). From the battle royal, to the triple threat, to JBL’s “retiring,” the tone is gleefully silly in a way that brings a smile to my face. Perhaps that was intended to counteract the heavier storylines, but the matches of a more intense nature frankly feel out of place. It’s a minor quibble that, again, mostly comes down to a problem of pace. Perhaps a more prestigious offering was in order given the historical significance of the numeral, but WrestleMania XXV is fine for what it is. A show better than its reputation, really.
18. WrestleMania XIV (155 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 22
Highest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 3
Greg Phillips: “The Austin Era has begun!”
That’s one of the most iconic calls in wrestling history, and that alone makes WrestleMania XIV a memorable show. I have to confess this is not one of my favorite events. In fact, I’m not really a fan of any of the matches, including the oft-overrated main event. Yes, Shawn Michaels deserves credit for hitting through a devastating injury, but that doesn’t make the match good or well worked. Both participants have disparaged the match over the years.
Past that, there was a decent Undertaker-Kane bout that featured one of the earliest Taker suicide dives and … Some other things. About the only things I love about this show are Sunny (in her all-time hottest Mania appearance) and The Rock’s amazing star-making sit-down interview with Gennifer Flowers. Still, this will go down as the show that either cemented or launched the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era, so it’s place in history is assured.
17. WrestleMania XXVI (161 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 23
Highest ranked by Tim Capel at No. 9
Todd Weber: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”-Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
2010’s WrestleMania XXVI, which took place in Phoenix, is a matter of extremes: the top of the card is quite consistent, with excellent matches from Cena & Batista, Jericho & Edge and Undertaker vs. HBK part 2 (not as good as the first, but better than you remember).
There’s some fine to very good mid-card work as well from the likes of the Money in the Bank crew, HHH vs. Sheamus, and CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio (which could’ve used five more minutes).
However, the card also features two of the most terrible matches of the modern era. We’ve all seen bad Divas matches at WM, but this particular 10-diva tag is reviled because it wasted Mickie James and Beth Phoenix (two of the most accomplished female wrestlers in WWE history) for the sake of getting the then-awful Vickie Guerrero over as a heel threat.
And then there was the Bret Hart versus Vince McMahon No Holds Barred Match.
There may have never been a greater waste of PPV airtime than this truly awful display. What was intended to be a cathartic exorcism of the remaining demons from the Montreal Screwjob is instead a forced and pathetic exercise in moronic comeuppance, where eleven minutes feels like an eternity of suck.
Without this match, XXVI may well have been considered one of the all-time classic WMs, and perhaps would’ve surpassed the previous year’s superior installment. Instead we’re left to wonder just what might have been had the right matches been longer or much, much shorter.
If wrestling works best when its a three-ring circus, as people like Jim Ross and Steve Austin like to postulate, than this may be what they were going for-except that one of the rings was filled with dog crap.
16. WrestleMania V (165 points)
Lowest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 19
Highest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 3
Jason Greenhouse: This is the better of the two Atlantic City Manias. A loaded roster that saw 26 future Hall of Famers make an appearance on camera, including this year’s inductees Randy Savage and the Bushwhackers.
The Main Event between Hulk and Macho was a great blow-off to their year-long build up.
The Rude and Warrior feud was just heating up as Rude won the IC title.
The Strike Force split helped give us one of the best heel characters from this era in “The Model” Rick Martel. We saw this happen against one of the greatest tag teams of all time, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard.
In addition, we also saw how stacked the rest of the tag-team division was.
From there, we have the fantastic hidden gem between Mr. Perfect and the Blue Blazer.
We do have two returns in the announced return of Roddy Piper and the surprise return of Jimmy Snuka.
Overall, the card was mixed with thrown together matches and blow-off matches, but it all seemed crammed into a three and a half hour show. I will say this, the show has something for everyone.
If I’m looking for something to throw on the WWE Network, this is a show that I get into for a while, but then am burnt out about two hours in.
That does it for the third installment of P2B’s Definitive WrestleMania Rankings. Check back tomorrow for Nos. 15-11!